Plan The Perfect Visit To Angkor Wat
Updated April 2020, Plan the Perfect Visit To Angkor Wat was originally written in November 2015
Once an ancient city and center of the Khmer Empire that ruled over most of the Southeast Asia landmass, Angkor Wat now sits in breathtakingly beautiful ruin. To get the most out of your Angkor Wat visit, I recommend getting a three-day pass and booking accommodations in Siem Reap to get a chance to decently explore the area. Angkor Wat is actually comprised of countless temples and ruins, with the most popular being Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Angkor Tom, and Bayon.
Twice have I gone to Siem Reap, of course as the jumping-off point for the Angkor Archaeological Sites. The first time I only got to spend one day there, checking Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm off the list, knowing that I had to come back to see more. The second time I visited Angkor Wat I took my best friend, Tay, to spend four exploring the ruins and temples of the archeological complex. I have seen a good number of the temples at this point and I don’t feel a need to go back very soon, but I’m sure I’ll be back eventually. There’s just something magical about all the temples.
Use the following guide to plan your perfect visit to Angkor Wat. I also recommend the Bradt guide to Angkor to help organize your trip.
Angkor Wat Quick Info
- Tickets: You will need to purchase a ticket to enter the main Angkor Wat complexes. The prices are; $37 for one day, $62 for three days and $72 for seven days. Tickets are valid only for consecutive days.
- Other entrance tickets: Koh Ker and Beng Mealea are not included on the main Angkor ticket. You must purchase a separate ticket to enter. Beng Mealea is $5 per day and Koh Ker is $10 per day.
- Where to sleep: Nearby Siem Reap has an array of accommodations to fit every budget, as well as a plethora of restaurants and nightlife. Click here to shop Siem Reap accommodations.
- Getting around: Most people will opt to visit the main temples by tuk-tuk, hired car, or bicycle. Plan to pay about $25 per day for a tuk-tuk, $35+ for a car, and $2-3 per day to rent a bicycle.
- When to visit Angkor Wat: December-March offer the best weather but the biggest crowds. If you can handle turning up the heat, April-June is a good time to visit if you’re trying to avoid the high tourist season. July-October is the monsoon season, and temperatures tend to peak in September and October.
- Recommended guidebooks: Bradt Guide’s Angkor, Angkor Wat: The History and Legacy of the World’s Largest Hindu Temple, Cambodia: Guide to the Temples of Angkor, and Trip of a Lifetime: Angkor Wat.
The Main Sites At Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the largest and most well-known temple of the entire complex. Built by Suryavarman II between 1112 and 1152 as a tribute to Vishnu. Historians believe that Angkor Wat was built as a mausoleum and temple to Suryavarman II. Angkor Wat is most impressive at sunrise, so there will be large crowds. I highly recommend a sunset visit to get a less-crowded glimpse of the temple and its impressive Bas-reliefs.
Ta Prohm is best visited in the early morning while the crowds are all oohing and awing at the Angkor Wat sunrise before they make their way over in the mid-day. Ta Prohm is one of my favorite temples in the world because of how it was left it (somewhat) as they found it: still covered in jungle. Though some jungle has been cleared from the ruin, the largest trees growing straight out of the temple remain. Ta Prohm was built in 1186 as a Buddhist temple dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s mother.
Angkor Thom means ‘great city’, built under Jayavarman VII’s rule between 1181 and 1219. Angkor Thom has five gates and is comprised of Bayon, Baphuon, the Terrace of Elephants, Phimeanakas, the Terrace of the Leper King, Preah Palilay, and Prasat Suot Prat. I recommend entering the complex from the eastern gates as they’re less crowded than the gate along the main road.
With 54 towers and 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara, Bayon sits in the middle of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. For the best light, visit in the morning after sunrise.
Built as a temple of Udayadityavarman II and dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, Baphuon actually predates Angkor Thom. By the late 15th century Baphuon would be converted into a Buddhist temple housing a 9 meter tall and 70 meter long reclining Buddha. Eventually, the entire temple collapsed, and in 2011, after 51 years of restorations, the temple was reconstructed and opened to the public.
Terrace of Elephants
The Terrace of Elephants was where the city’s public ceremonies were held. Try to visit in the early morning or close to sunset to avoid the crowds.
Palace of Phimeanakas
A Khleang-style Hindu temple whose name means ‘celestial palace’. It’s worth visiting to climb atop for great views of Baphuon.
Terrace of the Leper King
Legend points to two of the Angkor kings having suffered from leprosy. It is believed that the statues inside are of Yama, the god of death and that the terrace served as a crematorium.
Preah Palilay is a small Buddhist sanctuary with a unique chimney-like structure. Preah Palilay is often skipped over by most who visit Angkor Wat sites, so this is a good chance to escape the crowds.
Prasat Suor Prat
Meaning the ‘temple of tightrope dancers’, Prasat Suor Prat consists of 12 red towers of laterite. Its believed that here artists preformed on rope bridges strung between the towers for the king, hence the name.
Where to next? Why not add beautiful Koh Rong to your Cambodia itinerary
Other Temples Of The Angkor Complex
This humongous Buddhist monastery’s name means ‘citadel of chambers’ owing to the maze of monk’s chambers within.
This is one of the smaller temples of the Angkor complex, named after the Samre people who once inhabited the area. The temple is associated with the legend of the Cucumber King and has been nicely restored.
Eastern Mebon once sat on an island in the middle of Eastern Baray, a manmade lake that has since dried up. East Mebon is comprised of five towers worth climbing up to view the impressive stonework.
This five-tier, seven-level temple-mountain is best viewed at sunset, though many tourists do the same, so if you’re looking to avoid the crowds an early morning visit may be best. Phnom Bakheng was the center Yasodharapura under Yasovarman I from 889-910.
While Prasat Kravan doesn’t look like much from the outside- its real allure is on the inside of the five brick towers. Intricate carvings lie inside the towers of the 921 temple.
Built in honor of Jayavarman VII’s father. Preah Khan served as a center of Buddhist worship and as a Buddhist university.
Preah Neak Poan
Preah Neak Poan was built to celebrate Buddha and originally served as a hospital under Jayavarman VII with animal figures spraying holy water from their heads to cure the ailments of visiting pilgrims.
It is believed that Pre Rup may have served as a royal crematorium because of its name meaning ‘turning the body’. Five lotus flowers sit atop the highest tier of the temple.
Nearby to Banteay Kdei is Sra Srang which serves as a pool of ablutions. It was initially used by only the king and his wives.
Though never finished, Ta Keo’s construction went on between 968 and 1001 under Jayavarman V and dedicated to Shiva. It’s a punishing climb to the top in mid-day heat (I know, I did that), so I’d recommend visiting in the earlier part of the morning. It is unknown why Ta Keo was never completed.
Ta Som is another favorite Angkor Wat temple of mine because of the massive strangler fig tree rising from the temple ruins.
In the center of Western Baray sits West Mebon, which once held a massive bronze statue of Vishnu that has since been moved to the Phnom Penh National Museum. You will need to take a boat from the shore of the baray to reach West Mebon.
Banteay Srei is usually a favorite among most visitors who go out to explore the outer Angkor temples because of its pink sandstone and impressive and intricate carvings. Known as the ‘citadel of the woman’ because it was believed to be carved by a woman as the carvings are too delicate and intricate to have been executed by a man. Banteay Srei is included on the main Angkor ticket and is best visited in the late afternoon when the sun reflects the gorgeous pinks in the sandstone.
By and far my favorite temple of all of Angkor. Much of Beng Mealea is left in beautiful ruin as nature literally reclaims the ruin right in front of you. Built under Saryavarman between 1112 and 1152 Beng Mealea is known as the lotus temple and has been left largely unrestored. Beng Mealea is off the beaten path for Angkor Wat, and as such, I found very few foreign tourists there when I visited. You will need to buy a separate ticket when you arrive to visit Beng Mealea.
If you’re headed to Beng Mealea it’s with continuing on to combine it with a visit to Koh Ker. Koh Ker is a temple complex that was once the Angkorian capital from 928 to 944. Koh Ker still remains off the beaten path as it is one of the most remote temple complexes. You will need to purchase a separate entrance ticket when you arrive.
Temples Of Roluos
The temples of Roluos predate most of the Angkor Wat temples, built between 877 and 998 under Indravarman I. Roluos served as Indravarman I’s capital under the name Hariharalaya and is home to early Khmer classical art. Roluos consists of Preah Ko, Bakong, and Lolei temples, all of which are included under the main Angkor Archeological entrance ticket.
Handy Tips For Visiting Angkor Wat
- Always carry your ticket: the fines are quite high if caught without it. Carry it in a waterproof bag to prevent it from getting destroyed by rain and humidity.
- Purchase your ticket the evening before: You don’t want to mess around with purchasing tickets at the crack of dawn. Arrive at the ticket office just before 5 pm, and after purchasing you can enter to watch the sunset the night before your ticket is valid.
- Arrange a tuk-tuk driver the day before: Negotiate and agree on a price and departure time.
- Get an early start: If you want to get a good spot for watching the sunrise at the main Angkor Complex, plan to arrive before 5 am.
- Bring water: No matter when you visit Angkor Wat it will be a hot and sweaty endeavor.
- Pack snacks: You’ll be starting early and you’ll definitely get hungry. Not to worry if you forget, there are little cafes set up around the temples.
- Cambodia uses the US Dollar: Purchases will almost entirely be made in USD, though you can exchange a small amount to Cambodian Riel for making small purchases.
- Visas: Many nationalities can visit Cambodia on an e-visa, which you can apply for here.
Best Places To Watch Sunrise
- The south library at Angkor Wat: To escape the crowds right on the moat.
- Reflection shot of Angkor Wat: The pond to the left side of the walkway as you enter is going to be where you’ll get the best reflection shots, but arrive extra early to post up in the best space.
- Phnom Bakheng Hill: This is a great spot to get epic views of the temples from a distance. This spot has gotten very popular, especially at sunset which caused the limit to let no more than 300 people atop Phnom Bakheng at any given time, so get there early.
- Ta Prohm: While most everyone is over at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm tends to not get too busy until later in the morning.
- Sra Srang: If it’s a good sunrise Sra Srang will give you amazing reflection shots of the sky.
Best Places To Watch Sunset
- Pre Rup: Watch the stone of the temple turn colors as the sun goes down.
- Bayon: Watching the golden light fade over the faces of Bayon is best at sunset.
- Angkor Thom’s moat: Head to the eastern side of the complex for epic reflections.
What To Wear
Although you’ll see plenty of tourists not adhering to the rules of respectful dress here, it is important to remember that these are still active holy sites. Knees and shoulders should be covered at very least, even though temperatures can be hellaciously hot. Loose-fitting and breathable fabrics are key. I’d recommend if you want to wear a tank top to bring a scarf to cover up shoulders with.
A sun hat and sunglasses are advisable to keep the sun out of your face, and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Where To Stay In Siem Reap
In Siem Reap there are accommodation options to fit every budget. Here are different places I recommend for each budget:
There are plenty of vendors and even a few restaurants to eat at while visiting the temples inside the park, so if you don't pack a meal for your temple-exploring days you won't go hungry. You can expect to pay $2-4 for a meal inside the park. Back in Siem Reap there are tons of food options from local to international cuisine. You'll find most restaurants gathered around Pub Street.
Khmer and Southeast Asian dishes to try in Siem Reap include; Lok Lak Beef, Amok, Lap Khmer, and Nom Banh Chok.
Have Any Questions About Visiting Angkor Wat?
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